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The Rain Maiden

by M. Fritz Wunderli 2 months ago in Short Story / Fantasy / Fable
First Place in Christopher Paolini's Fantasy Fiction ChallengeFirst Place in Christopher Paolini's Fantasy Fiction Challenge
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Shu Li, Yu Shaonu

A thousand years ago a drought plagued the village of Shan Yu. Not a drop of rain had fallen on the village in three years. Believing Shangdi was angry with the villagers, they danced in his name, praying for storms and rain to fall on Shan Yu. But after dancing for seven days and seven nights, not a single cloud appeared in the sky.

Shu Li wandered into Ningjing forest at the end of the seventh day. Her feet were blistered and raw, her arms were heavy, and her hope exhausted. Just a small child, Shu Li meandered aimlessly through the dark forest. After wandering numbly along the winding and narrow trail, she slumped against a Yueliang Tree with white bark and crescent leaves. Weeping into the palms of her hands beneath the tender boughs of the Yueliang, Shu Li did not hear the visitor approach.

“Why do you cry, child?”

The voice was soft as a whisper, yet forceful. When Shu Li opened her eyes, her body stiffened. Lying before her was Yue Long, her long serpentine body curving and coiling around the trunks of trees, massive head elevated and staring down at Shu Li. Nacre eyes gazed unblinkingly at the small girl. Hard, keeled scales of pearly white glimmered in the moonlight. A spine of soft spikes ran down her back, shaped like the crescent curves of ocean waves. Her whip-like tail flicked playfully and batted at low-hanging leaves. Yue Long yawned, her enormous maw opening wide to reveal sharp rows of gleaming teeth.

Shu Li wiped the tears from her face. She rose to her feet and dusted the dirt from her silky white Fu Sheng dress. She bowed low, loose strands of black hair falling over her face. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Xian Yue.” Shu Li’s voice trembled, trying to overcome the grief still clutching her throat.

The dragon cocked her head to the side. Her front legs were casually crossed one over the other. “You have not disturbed me, but you have not answered my question, child. Why do you cry out here, beneath the Yueliang Tree?”

Shu Li stared up into Yue Long’s beautiful eyes. They glowed in the dark like flickering stars. There was no hint of anger or hostility in the dragon’s face. A wave of calm washed over Shu Li and she straightened up. “My village is hurting.”

“Why is your village hurting?” Yue Long asked.

“We do not have water. The rivers have dried. We are thirsty.”

Yue Long stretched her long neck and looked up into the night sky. The moon was full. Stars speckled the sky. “Do you dance for Shangdi?”

Shu Li nodded. “Yes, Xian Yue. But still, it does not rain.”

“Show me, child.” Yue Long looked down at the small girl, black hair tied into a knot on the top of her head now falling loosely around her petite face, dirt streaking her Fu Sheng, and silk slippers fraying and worn through the soles.

Shu Li had very little energy left. Her stomach churned and twisted from starvation. Her feet burned and swelled. Most of all, however, she felt ashamed and embarrassed to dance for Yue Long. No dance Shu Li could perform was good enough to perform for a celestial being. Even so, the young girl started dancing the way she was taught. Her feet cut lines in the dirt as they spun and pivoted in circles. Her hands sliced through the air. She lunged and twirled, arched and contorted her body. In her head, she imagined the sound of the erhu playing, trying to keep time with the music. She completed a full cycle of the routine and then ended. She struggled to catch her breath after the exhaustive choreography. Her legs gave out and she sank to the ground.

Yue Long lowered her head so that her muzzle pressed against Shu Li’s chest. Her breath was warm and gave off a scent of mint leaves. Shu Li was incapable of lifting her arms anymore, and once again, she began crying. Her body hurt. Her soul ached. She wanted to curl up in her mother's lap, feel her father's gentle hands stroke her long black hair.

“Come child. I will show you how to summon the storms.”

Yue Long lifted Shu Li onto her neck just behind her head. Without kicking off the ground, the white dragon fluttered elegantly into the sky, like paper weightlessly flowing on a breeze. She sluiced through the air effortlessly, climbing higher and higher. A white streak against a black sky. Yue Long reached the peak of Tianshang Mountain, and let Shu Li down on the cold, gray rock.

“Just watch, child, and I will dance in the sky. Then you will know how to conjure the rain and wind, and thunder and lightning.” With that, Yue Long gracefully flowed back into the sky. Her body looped, twirled, spiraled and curled. The whip of her tail cracked and split the air. Her scales tinkled like wind chimes. The wind whirled wherever she moved, sending hushed murmurs into the sky.

At first, Shu Li could not see the pattern in Yue Long’s movements, but after an hour of watching the majestic dragon move like leaves caught in the wind, like sudden streaks of lightning, like rain falling, the dragon’s routine became clear. Each movement was a perfect demonstration of strength and grace.

Yue Long finished and touched lightly upon the peak once more. “Did you see it, child?”

“Yes, Xian Yue. But…” Shu Li faltered.

“What is wrong?”

“You are a great and powerful dragon. I am just a small child. How can I dance the way you do? I will never be able to summon storms.” Shu Li’s eyes fell to the ground.

Yue Long considered the girl for a moment. “Tomorrow night, you will visit me again atop this mountain. Bring with you a ribbon fastened to the end of a stick, two steel balls tied to the ends of a string, and a thread of beads. Then I will show you how you can dance like a great and powerful dragon.”

Yue Long carried Shu Li back to the forest. The first signs of morning were creeping over the canopy. Shu Li took a few steps towards the village, and then looked back. Yue Long had vanished, no trace of her remained.

As night approached once more, Shu Li gathered the items Yue Long instructed her to bring. She took a silk ribbon from her mother, her father’s meditation beads threaded on a long strap of leather, and her grandfather’s baoding balls, which she tied to the ends of a horse-hair twine. She packed all the items into a cloth sack and slung it over her back. The forest was already dark when she began her trek to the base of Tianshang. The peak scraped the belly of the night sky, a daunting destination for the little girl.

Shu Li swallowed back any trepidation and began to climb the mountain. Little by little, she clambered over jagged stone, scaled slick cliffs, and leapt over narrow gorges. Her hands were chewed up by the sharp edges of rock. The sack on her back got heavier and heavier the higher up the mountain she climbed. Over and over again, Shu Li wanted to leave the bag behind. She did not think she could make it to the peak with a bag that weighed her down. But Yue Long’s words resonated in her mind. She gritted her teeth and continued to climb until she pulled herself up and onto the peak.

Yue Long was waiting for her, curled up on the pinnacle, head raised expectantly. Shu Li bowed before the mighty dragon, and waited for instruction.

“Did you bring what I asked?”

Shu Li removed the bag and pulled out the items to show Yue Long. She held out the silk ribbon, tied to the end of a thin stick. Next, she showed her father’s marble meditation beads. Lastly, she pulled out the baoding balls, connected by a piece of twine. Yue Long studied the items and then rose to her feet.

“Very well, child. Place the beads around your neck. Take the stick in your right hand, and the baoding in your left.”

Shu Li followed Yue Long’s instructions. The beads hung heavily like a chain necklace around Shu Li’s neck. The ribbon dangled limply from the end of the stick, and the baoding balls started getting heavy in her left hand. Yue Long nodded in approval.

“The beads,” Yue Long began saying, “are Yu Zhu. They represent the falling rain. The ribbon is Feng Sidai, and it represents the flowing wind. Lastly, the balls are Leidian Gang, and represent thunder and lightning.”

Shu Li simply nodded, signaling her understanding so far.

“As I move, so do you.” Yue Long rose into the air. She began to dance the way she did the night before. Shu Li watched in amazement, still trying to understand how any of these things would help her. But, after watching Yue Long for a moment, Shu Li began to move, trying to copy the dragon’s graceful motions. The silk ribbon fluttered in the sky, flowing behind Shu Li’s body, and soon, she began to hear the faint murmur of wind rushing in her ears, just as the wind howled along with Yue Long’s movements. Shu Li began to dance more eagerly, no longer waiting to hear music, but feeling a symphony of sounds gushing out from within her. She moved delicately like a trickling brook, but powerfully as a river. As she mimicked Yue Long’s choreography, the beads around her neck clinked musically, just as Yue Long’s scales did. The result was like that of the pitter-patter of rain against windowpanes and ceramic roof tiles. The baoding balls collided intermittently with a thunderous crack, just as Yue Long’s tail did, echoing across the Shengsheng Valley.

Without realizing it, Shu Li had completely synchronized with Yue Long, and the pair danced tirelessly through the night. Before dawn arrived, storm clouds gathered over the peak of Tianshang. Torrential rain poured upon the mountain, the forest, and the village. The clouds rumbled with thundering indigestion, grumbling louder and louder until they expelled lightning, blue veins streaking through the night sky. Wind whistled through the trees, carrying the leaves of Yueliang Trees into the air.

Shu Li did not stop dancing until the first rays of sunlight gently caressed the valley. She stopped then and looked out over her small village far down below. The storm persisted, invigorating the dried land and returning its vibrancy. The valley was becoming lush once again. But when Shu Li looked to the sky, Yue Long was gone, as was the moon and stars. Grateful, Shu Li bowed.

Shu Li climbed back down the mountain and joined her village in celebration of the storm. They frolicked for hours in the rain, dancing joyously, soaking in the blessed water and thanking the gods for their mercy. Shu Li continued to climb the Tiangshang peak to repeat the Qi Yu Wu. When she was no longer able to climb the mountain, a new Yu Shaonu was selected for the honor to climb the mountain to dance beneath the moon and summon the storms.

Every year, as spring begins, Shan Yu villagers hold the Storm Festival for seven days and seven nights. They honor their ancestor, Shu Li the First Rain Maiden, and the Moon Dragon Yue Long who taught her how to summon the storms. On the eighth night, a parade of villagers escort the Yu Shaonu through Ningjing forest, where she then climbs Tiangshang to dance with colorful Yu Zhu, Feng Sidai, and Leidian Gang, the sounds of her dance reaching the heavens. And every year, as she dances, the rain begins to fall.

Short StoryFantasyFable

About the author

M. Fritz Wunderli

I love storytelling and the transformative process it brings for both readers and writers. I hope my stories have that same effect.

Check out my Instagram page- @vunderwrites.

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Outstanding

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

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    Creative use of language & vocab

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (70)

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  • Rohen Kapurabout 19 hours ago

    I was transported.

  • Polly Ludgate3 days ago

    Such compelling writing and beautiful imagery. I was totally enthralled whilst reading it. Well done.

  • Congratulations! I was completely swept up in your tale.

  • Erica Wagner3 days ago

    Congratulations on your win! A timeless intriguing tale, told in compelling and poetic language. I'll keep reading...

  • Sherry Cortes4 days ago

    This reads like an excellent folk story and a tale that would be passed down from generation to generation. Beautiful imagery and well-realized world.

  • D. D. Lee4 days ago

    First, congratulations on a well deserved win. I’ve entered many challenges and this is the first time I actually read a winning submission. I’ll make it a habit to do so in the future. Your writing is definitely at the level I strive to achieve one day, no rush though. Do you have any tips on how to improve fantasy writing overall, whether it be character development, world-building, descriptiveness or storytelling?

  • Congrats on winning. I have a question for anyone who may be able to answer it. I also entered this contest, and when I checked views, there was only 1 and that was from a friend who read it. Does that mean that my story was not read? King bummed I worked hard and did not get anyone to read it. Sorry for commenting this on your page but wanted to know what happened. Again congrats!

  • What a great Story. Congratulations 🎈

  • Robby Tal5 days ago

    Incredible work! Congrats on your win :)

  • simplicity 6 days ago

    Beautiful. Congratulations on completing a great story and winning with it!

  • Annelise Lords6 days ago

    Congratulations. I enjoy reading myths and legends stories.

  • Blake Johnson6 days ago

    I was instantly transformed into this world through your storytelling. Congratulations on this very deserving win.

  • Jodi Nicholls6 days ago

    This was exceptional! Your imagery was stunning. <3

  • Holly Pheni8 days ago

    Very well done! Great departure from common fantasy tropes. I love the setting and unique cultural influence. Well-deserved win, congratulations!

  • Thayrile8 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉🎊

  • Aphotic8 days ago

    This is beautifully written. I love the way you described the culture and the dragon. Also a unique take on the challenge. Well-deserved win, congratulations!😊

  • Chris Heller8 days ago

    Earlier in the thread I made some negative comments concerning this story and its worthiness as first place winner. I admit that it was driven by my own feelings of disappointment, but that’s no excuse. So, to the author of this story, I’m sorry about what I said before; your story is really good. Congratulations on your win. Hope you make the most of your convo with Christopher. But let me reiterate: I still think the contest system need some improvement. The winners win without knowing why, and the losers lose without knowing what they could’ve done better. So, to the Vocal Team, we would appreciate if the judges would give feedback to all the contest entrants, even if it’s just a few notes here and there. I want to hone my craft and make every story I write into a masterpiece. Sincerely, Chris Heller.

  • Jack Stoneman8 days ago

    Congratulations! This reminds me of Avatar the Last Air-bender, my favourite franchise.

  • Alina Z8 days ago

    The white dragon, the sounds, and the dance movements are captivating. Beautiful legend atmosphere! Congratulations!

  • Alex Sorrells8 days ago

    A well deserved win! Congrats, and excellent story telling!

  • Chris Siener8 days ago

    Beautifully written 🌧. Thank you for sharing your rain dance story.

  • Jacquie Mayhorn9 days ago

    Love this. Your words paint such a vivid image reminiscent of an ancient folklore. Congratulations!

  • Deasun T. Smyth9 days ago

    Congratulations! great story.

  • mahmuod Ibrahim9 days ago

    Congratulations on winning

  • Jen Gossoo9 days ago

    Wow, this was really beautiful. You did so much in such a short span. I especially loved the specificity of the cultural garments and objects-- I definitely learned new terms, so while it was an absorbing read, it also felt educational! What excellent storytelling.

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